Theories about disruptive, breakthrough innovation tell us that these rarely come from the incumbents, more usually emerging from fleet-of-foot new entrants that shake up the status quo. With this in mind, Seymourpowell’s Head of Sustainability, Chris Sherwin, excitedly joined the kick off event for the Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) program last week, in his role as a mentor.
Chris Sherwin reports back…..
BGV is an ‘accelerator program for technology start-ups working on things that matter’ which in layman terms means a funding and support program for really early stage digital entrepreneurs working on solving big social and environmental challenges. It is based on the idea that a tiny amount of seed funding at the very, very early stages of a tech start-ups development, can be ‘life-critical’ for success.
Each entrepreneurs project receives peppercorn funding of £15,000 plus a three-month intense training program starting as-of now. The 20-plus mentors volunteer their time and (often considerable) talents to ensure these ideas take flight and succeed. The ‘Green’ of the title has the double meaning of both the programs origins in London E2, as well as the focus of projects being some form of sustainability challenge or social innovation.
The projects themselves are a simply fascinating, international mix, which include:
• GNERGY – Building software for easy, fast and powerful energy auditing of buildings.
• Mastodon C – Making cloud computing massively greener, by sending work to the most carbon-efficient location at any given time.
• Municipality Tools – Building apps that help citizens and businesses to connect and communicate with local government.
• Pad Partners – Helping people who would like to make their homes more energy efficient find advice and support from their social networks.
• Semantic Health – Changing the way patients communicate with the NHS, putting them in control of their appointments and increasing choice.
Somewhat inevitably, given my electronics background, it was the FairPhone project that really caught my eye. Aimed to ‘create the first fair mobile phone in the world, from the raw materials all the way through the supply chain to when the handset is recycled’, this project has one of the clearest mental models in my opinion – the goal of designing a ‘fairtrade mobile’. This obviously suits my and Seymourpowell’s skills rather neatly, so we’re keen to explore how we can help. I left the opening event fired up, even hopeful, plus with three over-riding thoughts:
There’s a long way to go for many of the BGV start-ups, and many, possibly all may fall by the wayside. Yet even were that to happen, it’s still an incredibly important and inspiring program. The roll call of mentors is pretty impressive and I feel slightly humbled to bring my lowly sustainable design skills to such an esteemed bunch of successful entrepreneurs. Add to that the fact that the event was held at the Google Campus where BGV has secured an entire floor for the programs duration, with the aim of promoting serendipitous learning, and you realise the entrepreneurs are in for one hell of a ride.
Secondly, I’m personally thrilled to get to work with some entrepreneurs and start-ups after so many years of almost entirely corporate consulting. Its not that big businesses don’t innovate, they do, and more recently on sustainability too, it can just sometimes take a while to grease the wheels and get moving. Mentoring ‘the little guys’ is certainly a new string to my bow and I’ll be fascinated to see how they move and how all this develops.
My final thoughts drift to the great innovation stories of the 20th Century, in which the giant and dominant corporations of today – like HP, Apple and Microsoft – were built in the garages and spare rooms of California and Silicon Valley. Given that BGV innovators are housed in the heart of London’s Silicon Roundabout, I’m wondering if this new kind of tinkering could lead to the disruptive, breakthrough innovations of the 21st Century that sustainability surely needs.
Bethnal Green Ventures can be found at: http://bethnalgreenventures.com
You can follow the Bethnal Green Ventures 3-month program on Twitter @bg_ventures and with the hashtag #BGV
For more information contact the Seymourpowell PR Team.